Sunday 21 January 2018

Varadkar at odds with Labour over universal health care

Leo Varadkar. Photo: James Connolly
Leo Varadkar. Photo: James Connolly

Marese McDonagh

Health Minister Leo Varadkar yesterday reiterated his determination to introduce universal health care on a phased basis, underlining a key difference with Labour policy.

Mr Varadkar, who defended his party's record on health, said that a key part of Fine Gael's health strategy if returned would be to introduce "one big thing" each year for five years, on the path to eventually providing universal health care.

He said this would see the care already introduced for the under-six group and for the elderly extended to cover six to 12 year olds and in the following year to 12 to 18 year olds.

The Minister said more needed to be done to tackle obesity alcohol problems and physical inactivity.

He conceded that our publicly funded hospitals were not faring well from a budgetary point of view.

"Contrary to the public commentary out there only one third of our budget foes to hospital with two-thirds going elsewhere, he stressed.

"That leaves our hospitals under-staffed compared to OECD norms when it comes to certain specialities".

He said the last Government had reduced the number of hospital beds in Ireland by over 1200 but the outgoing administration had in the last year restored 300 of these and had freed up 200 more by resourcing the Fair Deal.

Defending the Government's record on health, Mr Varadkar said that there were 289 patients on trolleys in Irish hospital yesterday, 141 of them for more than nine hours. This compared with 448 people on trolleys on the same day last year, 220 of whom were there for over nine hours.

The Minister was in Sligo to officially open a €2m Medical Academy at Sligo University Hospital.

Meanwhile, Mr Varadkar said that a judicial commission of investigation will be needed in order to get to the bottom of events at a foster care home in the south-east which has been at the centre of abuse allegations.

The Minister acknowledged that despite a number of investigations to date "there remains unanswered questions" about the home where a woman with intellectual disabilities, known as Grace, remained for many years after concerns were raised.

Irish Independent

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